Next 20 Years road show ponders Internet's future

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By the year 2020, computer chips will cost a penny, cell phones will reside in tie clasps and people will surf the Web from their watches.

These are a few of the predictions of New York author and physicist Michio Kaku, speaking at "The Next 20 Years," a traveling lecture and schmooze-fest sponsored by Ziff-Davis, Arthur Andersen Knowledge Enterprises and others. The tour kicked off at Chicago's Field Museum April 21 in front of a crowd of about 1,000.

Cars will be wired to detect a drunk driver, Mr. Kaku said, and will say," `You're stoned out of your mind; I refuse to start.' "

The other panelists offered more restrained views of the future. Hazel Henderson, an independent futurist, spoke about the global economy and how the Internet plays into an information currency based on barter.


Jean-Louis Gassee, chairman-CEO of Be Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif., company that makes software for PCs, said a major technology barrier to progress is the way software is developed. "We still write software the way monks wrote on parchment paper," said Mr. Gassee, who spent nine years at Apple Computer, most recently as president of Apple's Products Division. "We need to invent movable type for software--something that's modular and reusable."

Audience questions included a Mac lover wondering about her favorite computer company's fate by the year 2020. Mr. Gassee was optimistic, saying Apple had survived death predictions before. "The Mac might not be around in 20 years," he said, but all Apple has to do is find the next thing.

When asked about the year 2000 problem, Mr. Kaku blamed human stupidity and said it could have been solved 30 years ago.


Jobs are also expected to change in the next 20 years. In his book "Visions," published by Anchor Books/Doubleday, New York, Mr. Kaku lists occupations slated for extinction. If you rent videos for a living, he said, "you live in fear of one word: bandwidth."

The seven-city tour will be broadcast live and archived on the Next 20 Years Web site. The series will visit New York; Boston; Los Angeles; Seattle; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco in 1998, and plans to go overseas in 1999. Speakers will vary, depending on the city.

San Francisco-based Executive Producer Bob Ayres created the road show based on the informal gatherings called LastSaturdays, which he founded in 1993. They evolved into lectures and networking parties for everyone from venture capitalists to writers and software developers.

Mr. Ayres' intention was not to bring together the usual Web start-up luminaries, but people with clout who could shed some perspective on the industry's future.

At trade shows, "You see the same people--they don't say anything outrageous because it'll affect their stock price," he said. "I want to create a forum for people who are really thoughtful and doing very interesting work, but are not usually seen by the new-media crowd."

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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